The law of paronomasia
“Paronomàsia is the phenomenon by far dominant in the Sardinian language. Attempts to make sense of the ancient words, or translating them, generate paretimologies just because you take part of the paronomastic common sense, instead of a proper methodology. It’s a natural fact.
The discovery of an exorbitant presence of paronomàsias in today’s languages (even in the Sardinian language) led me to formulate the “Law of the paronomàsia”, to which underlie all peoples.
In the dictionaries of Italian language paronomàsia is recorded exclusively as figure of speech (so as voluntary process), where they move a word near to another one having similar sound or the same, but having a different meaning. The editors of the dictionaries do not experience the paronomasia as important phenomenon in the formation of language, and believe it is only a wanted, cultural game, implemented by the speaker to bring out the opposition of meanings through slippage, the double meaning, polysemy, misunderstanding between two identical expressive symbols. Most of the jokes are made with paronomasias.
a. – My brother’s just opened a shop.
– Really? And how’s he doing?
– Six months. He opened it with a crowbar.
b. A car driver: – Excuse me, can you tell me where this road goes?
The passer-by: – It doesn’t go anywhere. It stays where it is.
This cultural procedure, precisely because it aims to laugh, combines two words or phrases phonetically similar or identical (but semantically different) in order to bring out the absurdity of the combination. No scholar has however perceived that, outside of the voluntary creation of rhetorical figures, the paronomasia is a law passively suffered from all speakers.
We must take note paronomasia is as old as the history of languages, as originated by homophones. Even in the Sumerian language there are several words that are pronounced the same, or very like it, but the meaning is completely different (polysemy). They are called homophones by modern grammarians, and the Sumerians, just to distinguish, wrote them with different graphemes, contrary to what we do, writing them with the same grapheme and distinguishing them in the conceptualization of the spoken chain. So, for example, the Sumerian sound /a/ means ‘water’, and is written with a certain sign; when it means ‘strength’ is written in another fashion.
Every language has some words or phrases equivocal, whose utterance can create laughter (if the ambiguity is intentional) or embarrassment (if the ambiguity is inherent in the process and is irretrievable, despite the attentions of the speaker). An example may be inferred from Campidanian Toccamì ainnántis ‘go in front of me’, that a Sardinian of other linguistic cantons easily interpretes as ‘Touch me, finger me facing me’.
Wagner, more amused than scientifically involved, in its DES lists the lemma suppa remembering that in the central-southern island it means ‘nothing’: Chirco e non b’agatto suppa. Non ni budìa fai suppa. And he concludes: «It’s part of the inventory of Italian macaronic the phrase, referring to his son: Non ne posso fare zuppa: è morto bicchierino = ‘non posso cavarne nulla: è molto birichino’» (I cannot obtain nothing by him: he’s very impish). Indeed, here we have a macaronic phrase, but the sentence is authentically Sardinian, put into the mouth of an ignorant person who tries to express himself with Italian phonetic and semantics: the result is a sentence Sardinian-Italian who wallows in paronomasia. Wagner considers unknown the etymology of suppa. Instead it has the base in Ass. ṣuppu ‘decorated, overlaid, covered, clad’, šūpû ‘made apparent, resplendent, famous’: semantics refers to the result of beautification of a brute body, a transformation from jewelery, decoration that enhances a gross body.
I do not mention the hundreds of paronomasias unconsciously produced by a Sardinian who tries to speak Italian, often linked to poor knowledge of Italian, sometimes to a little self-control. An effect of ignorance of the Italian language is, eg., Scuola Alimentare instead Scuola Elementare (Food School ≠ Elementary School), or message instead of massage (messaggio ≠ massaggio). Or molar in place of moral; for this example I bring a direct experience: How are you, Peppina, I see you down in the dumps! (down in the dump = It. giù di morale) Answer: Ah, thou hast reason! For the molar (a tooth!) I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid of the dentist! The lack of communication is often due to cultural differences. And so, if one likes the art and says “Caravaggio…”, the listener, who has not done decent studies or has no passion for art, can understand scarafaggio (cockroach). This is the “law of paronomàsia”.
The lack of self-control within a single register (in this case the Italian language) plays equally bad jokes, and January 27, 2010, the anniversary of the Memory of the Shoah, I had to listen to the TV a capo respiratorio (chief respiratory) instead of capro espiatorio (Scapegoat).
The same phenomenon of homophones, with a retinue of paronomasy (and related paretimology), is, of course, in all the languages of the world, whether people dominate two registers of language, or he spaces within a single register.
ΛΑΓΩΠΟΥΣ. I make the example of the Greek plant name λαγώπους (Dioscoride 4,17), It. ‘piede di lepre’ (Trifolium arvense L.). The word, already at that time, is a paronomasia, whose base is Akk. laḫu ‘young shoot’ + pû(m) ‘chaff’: laḫu-pûm = ‘forage grass’.
ΔÍΨΑΚΟΣ. The same is for plant name δίψακος (Dioscórides 3,11) ‘cardo dei lanaioli’ (Dipsacus fullonum L., Dipsacus ferox Lois., Dipsacus sylvester L.), which Paulis NPPS 188-189 believes < Gr. dipsa ‘thirst’ > Lat. dipsacos, dipsaca (Plinius N.H. 27,71; Ps.-Apul. 25,15). The Greek name, according to Paulis, refers to long basal leaves opposite each other but «fused to form a shallow cup around the stem, which collects rainwater and dew».
But the birds could not drink that water, if ever the “cap” could keep back it; they find it easier to drink in the pools or drink the drops of the leaves after the rain, without bothering among thorns. If linguists would have knowledge that in Greek-classical period continued to govern implementation of the Second Linguistic Koiné, they could understand that δίψακος is a Mediterranean word whose basis is Akk. dišpu(m) ‘honey, syrup’ + saqqu ‘sack’ (metathesis: *dips-sack), with the overall meaning of ‘sack of honey’; then they would understand that not to thirst people thought when forged (10,000 years ago?) the word used by the Greeks as well, but to the fact that the large ovoid heads of Dipsacus each produce a myriad of flowers that are visited by bees to produce refined honey. The amount of honey foraged in a Dipsacus is prodigious, hence the Akkadian term.
BRUSADORE. Damaging claims of approval are common in every person (and every scholar) who seeks etymological self-reference within the same language or between a “minor” language and a dominant one. So it is Brusadòre, Sardinian surname which Pittau DCS believes it meaning ‘burner, arsonist’ from brusiáre ‘to burn, to set fire’. But brusadòre in Sardinian language does not exist, although it would not make any sense. The arsonists in the past were not qualified as terrorists, while today rightly are. These were people who were cleaning the pastures from weeds, srub, workers of denshiring that the community accepted. Brusadòre is a classic paronomasia < Sum. buru’az (a bird) + dur ‘bird’ = ‘bird (named) buru’az’: buru’az-dur > sincope *bruaz-dur > Brusadòre. It perhaps was a sacred bird.
GENTI ARRÙBIA. The “solar” name génti arrùbia, gente rùbia, zente rùja is given to the ‘flamingos’ from Sardinian people; génti, zente, seems appropriate to the nature of the red-winged bird: it is even known to the Spanish as flamenco ‘flaming’! The academy don’t realize this type of birds is the only one in Sardinia to receive the appellation zenti, which in Sardinian and in Italian means ‘people’, ‘nation’, but in due course pointed to a ‘race’ of animals. No other bird in the world has such an appellation. This is suspicious, or should be suspicious. If you understand that the paronomasia is a law of universal language, this term would be perceived immediately as paronomasia. Sumerian enti means ‘bird’; rubû in Akkadian means ‘king’: thus enti rubû meant ‘real bird’ (of course, for the wonderful beauty).
MÙTZIGA SURDA is called in Campidanian language a person affable but treacherous, showing a good face but hitting people behind, who is quiet but speaks evil behind the people. This saying, very used however, is not even listed in dictionaries: sign of undervaluation or nonchalance for the phrase. Translating phonetically we would have a “sheep with cropped ears (mùtziga) and deaf (surda)”, but this absurd interpretation is oozing paronomàsy and paretymology. The true etymological basis is Akk. muṣiḫḫu ‘clown, jester’ + surdû ‘falcon’, which makes perfectly this personality.
ESSE. Of this lemma with adverbial function Wagner reports some phrases, such as andare essi per essi ‘go wandering without a fixed destination’. Wagner believes, with obvious paronomàsia, that essi is a video-phono-semantic word, by the letter S ( pronounced esse in Sardinia and Italy). But there are many other expressions that contradict this hypothesis, as a pili esse ‘with hair upwards, in the opposite direction’; G. Pili records in Sulcis and Barbàgia the goat with horns not homogeneous, mutually skew-whiff, called corrèssa; at Sàssari assè tottu a esse ‘be spineless, very unbalanced, like a cripple’; unu barrόcciu a esse ‘rickety wagon’, ti fozzu la ganna a esse ‘I will deform your anus’ in the sense that ‘I’ll give you a thrashing’. All of this happens in Sardinian language despite the fact Puddu, one of the linguists that records the current status of the Sardinian language, gives to us the phrases now italianised, in which essi, esse, per essi received, again with obvious paronomasia, the meaning of ‘to, direction’, from a supposed *(b)e(r)se. Indeed, the lemma is very old with etymology from Akk. ešû(m), ešeum, ašu, išû ‘confused , tangled, matted’ of wire, hair, beard, mind, ‘crooked’ eyes .
PECORA IN CAPPOTTO. Among the paronomàsias mummified by the taboos of arrogance, hidden in the pit of nonsense, there is also pecora in cappotto (sheep with coat). No linguist pays attention to this definition, today expressed either in Italian-Sardinian (berbèghe “in cappottu”) because in authentic Sardinian, in the deep Barbàgia, it has lost even its phonemic tradition. But it’s precisely these strange cases, these minotauric expressions to challenge a linguist: they must question him, stimulate him to expose himself, to get into the game. Indeed, “sheep in coat” is a tautology (sheep-animal with coat), repeated as nonsense for centuries, having a base in Sum. ḫabum-tu, ‘animal broth’, ‘animal soup’ (from ḫabum ‘animal, beast’ + tu ‘soup, broth’). It pointed to a beast treated with boiled vegetables instead of the usual way of Barbàgia (which is the skewering and the roast).
The problem of paronomasia is distorted and is further complicated when you don’t recognize many entries of a dictionary are indeed old compounds. As it happens, it’s precisely what occurr in the compounds by sandhi phenomena, which change phonetics of both parts in contact, often making being unrecognizable both words that contributed to the original mutual merger. Sardinia – like any other nation – has the vocabulary full of paronomasias, which become ipso facto paretimologies. Paretimology, or false etymology or popular etymology, is the activation of an etymology made at the expense of passive scrape-a-living of paronomasia, in the sense that paronomasia – by no one understood as such – is taken as basis to extract the required meaning of a word. I note two examples.
PILU DE TITTA, or filu ‘e titta or pieríttu, in Sardinia it means the ‘mastitis’ = ‘hardening of the breast’. The word pilu is not Latin but neo-Bab. and neo-Assyrian, where pīlu, pēlu means ‘lime, limestone, limestone block’. It is no coincidence that for mastitis is said ‘sa titta est appedráda’: ‘the breast is hard like a stone’. The expression pilu de titta is fully Semitic, as titta = Babylonian ‘nourishment, food’ (tîtum). The Sardinian titta originally meant literally ‘food’ and then metaphorically ‘breast’. As for the variant pieríttu, pierìtta, it is none other than Campidanian constipation pilu ‘e titta > pi(lu)’e ritta, with normal rotacism of /t/.
YPERBOREI. To close the argument, I take leave of the reader with the tasty story of the Yperbórei, Gr. Ὑπερβόρεοι, a fabulous people who was believed to live perfectly happy in a land where the sun never set. The term, as we will see in the end, is Sumerian, yet, needless to say, was one of the first to be swallowed up by the Greeks who passed it as composed of ὑπέρ ‘over’ and Βορέας ‘north wind’. As Yperbórei poets indicated ‘those who live further north’ or as ‘it which is located to the north’. Virgil and Horace talk about Hyperboreae orae and Hyperborei campi. The tale of Iperbόrei was one of the poetic forms which manifested itself in the mythical tradition of a state of perfect happiness and innocence, usually located in a fabulous past time or unattainable distances. «The legend narrated Delphic Apollo passed at the Iperbόrei the winter months, surrounded by the veneration and affection of the inhabitants of those remote regions, who then sent their offerings to Delos’ sanctuary, the first fruits of wheat, that arrived on the island after a long and complex journey… An impression prevails: Hyperboreans are first of all an evocative poetic invention»1. The first mention of Iperbόrei appears in the Homeric Hymn 7 to Dionysus. Notes on bliss of their existence are read in Pindar, Pythian 10. The story of tenders sent to Delos’ sanctuary is known by Herodotus ( 4.33,35 ) and Callimachus (Hymn to Delos) . More news and hints appear in Pausanias, Strabo, Pliny, Pomponius Mela and Apollonius of Rhodes (Argonautica 4.611 ff.). On the issue of Yperbόrei some elements are to be analyzed more seriously, in order to shield them from the deadly embrace of those (starting by the Greeks themselves) treated this ethnic name according to the law of paronomasia and the yardstick of the only Greek language (theory of parthenogenesis), cataloging them as “those who are beyond the north wind”, almost to the Arctic Circle. From this primordial paronomasia in Greek sauce had unleashed a whole poetic tradition chaotic and far-fetched, where each option was taken freely, and no one wanted to meditate on the text of the historian Herodotus, who spoke clearly of Yperbόrei’s sea-trips for carrying wheat to Delo. Grain was not born in the Arctic Circle. And then, it turns absurd that people would have to do a very long trip in order to bring to Delos a base-commodity, a simple cereal. It was better to fill the ships with amber. I suppose the reason for this modest load is sacred, and the home of these navigators must be in the Mediterranean sea. Another element that clashes with the absurd claim to see Yperbόrei as happy inhabitants of an area the coldest and darkest of the world, is that they went to Delos to worship the god Apollo, the god of Light, the Sun-god.
To what absurd mental defect poets wanted to impose this god the thankful trips of recompense in the Realm of Darkness and perennial cold? The law of paronomasia exists as long as the language, and the name Yperbόrei lent itself well to this torture in the context of mythology; this clung to the concept of “beyond the Boreas” to embroider the most abstruse poetry, which even never paid attention to the fact that in the country of Yperbόrei the sun never set (the opposite of what happens at the Pole).
Indeed, the ethnic word Yperbόrei is Sumerian, and has a base in the compound u-par-bur: u ‘world, territory’ + par ‘canal, irrigation ditch’ + bur ‘dazzle, light, shine’ (see Akk. būru, ‘a word for sky’), meaning ‘irrigated land dazzled (from the sun)’. Since Yperbórei went to Delo by ship, it seems evident that their own homeland was in the Mediterranean.”
Source: Historical Grammar of Sardinian Language, Salvatore Dedola
[1.1 The law of paronomàsia]